Editorial: Solutions should focus on men


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On college campuses, 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and at least 9 of every 10 rape victims are female, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey.

It’s these dynamics of sexual assault that the University of Iowa, in response to student protests after eight reported sexual assaults on campus this academic year, are taking steps to change. At the UI, increased attention to on-campus sexual assault has led the administration to implement new policies designed to dispel myths about sexual assault and to involve both men and women in the fight by teaching bystanders how to defuse high-risk situations.

A focus on better educating men — who commit the vast majority of sexual assaults — and including them in policies designed to curb sexual assault is a necessary component to any set of policies aimed at this terrible phenomenon.

Even President Obama acknowledged that in a Jan. 22 White House address on sexual assault. “We’ve got to keep teaching young men in particular to show women the respect they deserve, and to recognize sexual violence and be outraged by it, and to do their part to stop it from happening in the first place,” he said.

In light of this, many prevention programs often place emphasis on recognizing unwanted sexual advances by men. One such program will be used by the UI beginning this fall. Every Choice, an online video-based program aimed at reducing campus sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking, will be required for incoming freshmen to complete. Every Choice will replace the university’s current sexual-assault training program to ensure the content is more relevant and useful to students.

The core of the program is bystander training, teaching those in situations in which sexual assault can occur to intervene discretely to help possible victims. Bystander training has been recognized by many as one of the best ways to stop sexual assaults, much the same way as the designated driver campaign helped change the culture and emphasize responsibility with drunk driving.

Of course, going through training is one thing, but applying it in real world situations is another challenge entirely. Time will tell if these programs make a significant difference, but the UI’s quick reactiveness in handling these concerns should be commended.

Yet there’s only so much the university can do reactively. The culture around sexual assault remains a problem. It’s one thing to respond to student pressure but quite another to take proactive steps to call out these contributing factors.

Heavy alcohol use is consistently linked with sexual assault, and at the so-called No. 1 party school in the U.S., the UI certainly has a drinking culture. Putting emphasis on the risks of binge drinking should be a priority in combating sexual assault, without the kind of victim-blaming language that has been used in the past. Additionally, the influence of cultural messages on masculinity can become an echo chamber on college campuses, an important reality to understand.

Through training tools and the use of the university’s media resources, sexual assault can be combated. But it will take students, male and female, to change the culture around sexual assault and recognize and intervene in dangerous situations when they occur.

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